Following my departure from state parliament I am unencumbered with my parliamentary career practise of only commenting on legislative issues when they are debated on the floor of the Chamber.
In the next few weeks, the Independent Member for Mersey, Mike Gaffney MLC will table the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020 in the Legislative Council.
This bill proposes that in certain circumstances , people may voluntarily receive assistance to end their lives. It would also provide legislative protection for those who provide such assistance.
In a recent Q and A with the National Secular Lobby, Mike Gaffney explained the Bill in this way: "For those who wish to choose VAD, the bill provides an opportunity for them to do so. It makes the practice neither compulsory nor encouraged. It is simply about individual choice. The bill seeks to provide assurance to those who have received a diagnosis which flags imminent, unrelenting suffering, so that they can initiate steps to manage their pain or illness in anticipation of the condition becoming intolerable".
Let us reflect on those words for a moment. It makes the practice neither compulsory nor encouraged.
The Australian Christian Lobby has been one of the most vocal opponents of this Bill, declaring that it essentially aids suicides. An excerpt from the draft of the bill states: "For the purposes of the law of this State, a person who dies as the result of the administration to the person of a VAD substance in accordance with this Act does not die by suicide".
In contrast to the Australian Christian Lobby, the group Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Assisted Dying has this Statement of Belief on the subject: "We are Christians who believe that, as a demonstration of love and compassion, those with a terminal or hopeless illness should have the option of a pain-free, peaceful and dignified death with legal voluntary assisted dying or legal voluntary euthanasia".
In recent months there has been a growing number of local people sharing their stories across local media in support of this bill. As one example, Peter Godfrey of Nunamara wrote this in his letter to the editor in The Examiner on July 16th :
"My mother died from motor neurone disease, I sat with her for the last 10 days of her life. She was in a palliative care hospital and asked the doctor to give her a needle to end it all. He was not allowed to carry out her wish. She was unable to swallow as her throat muscles would not work. So the end was very slow from starvation and dehydration. She was not allowed to end her own life peacefully, she was forced to suffer what to her was a horrific death".
Voluntary assisted dying is already legal in Canada, some US states, and several European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Last year, Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 came into effect. Victorians at the end stage of their lives can now, if they meet strict criteria, request assistance to die.
Voluntary assisted dying is supported by key health professional organisations, such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, which has stated that it "supports patient- centred decisions in end-of-life care, and respects that this may include palliative care and requests for voluntary assisted dying" and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, which supports " legislative reform so that competent adults who have an incurable physical illness that creates unbearable suffering shall have the right to choose to die at a time and in a manner acceptable to them and shall not be compelled to suffer beyond their wishes."
Further examples of this strong community support for VAD include Dying with Dignity Tasmania and Doctors for Assisted Dying Choice.
This will always be a deeply personal choice. Each person will be guided by their own faith and convictions. It will always come down to a matter of conscience.
Beyond that, there will always be a need for the strictest safeguards to ensure that the choice to die is a voluntary, rational and informed decision made by a person whose life has reached its end stage.
And, conversely, safeguards are needed to ensure that both patients and health professionals who for ethical and other reasons do not support voluntary assisted dying should have their standpoints respected and protected.
This bill takes account of these difficult issues. It proposes a legislative framework that would sit alongside palliative care and give those in intolerable pain, the right to choose a peaceful death.
I strongly applaud the Independent Member for Mersey, Mike Gaffney MLC for the tireless work he has done on this bill, it deserves strong support.
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